Teaching for Both Knowledge and Understanding

Feb 22, 2022 | Teaching

Teaching for Both Knowledge and Understanding

Education has always been the cornerstone of human progress. It’s the key to unlocking our potential, solving complex problems, and making informed decisions. But what’s the best approach to education? Is it enough to focus solely on imparting knowledge, or is there something more profound we should aim for? It is crucial to teach for both knowledge and understanding and both direct instruction and inquiry-based learning play a significant role in achieving this balance.

Knowledge vs. Understanding

Before we delve into the importance of teaching both knowledge and understanding, let’s clarify the difference between the two. Knowledge refers to the information and facts one acquires through learning. It’s about memorizing data, facts, and figures. Understanding, on the other hand, goes beyond mere knowledge. It involves the ability to connect the dots, critically analyze information, and apply knowledge in various contexts. In essence, understanding is the ability to make sense of what you know.

Direct Instruction: The Foundation of Knowledge

Direct instruction is a traditional and effective method of teaching that focuses on the clear and explicit presentation of facts, concepts, and skills. It is instrumental in building a solid foundation of knowledge. Here’s how direct instruction contributes to teaching both knowledge and understanding:

1. Clarity and Efficiency: Direct instruction provides clear and structured content delivery. It ensures that students acquire the essential knowledge efficiently, setting a strong foundation for further understanding.

2. Fundamental Concepts: Direct instruction is particularly valuable when teaching fundamental concepts and skills, as it helps students establish the necessary background knowledge for more complex learning.

3. Building Vocabulary: It is essential for students to build a robust vocabulary and grasp key terminology in various subjects. Direct instruction aids in vocabulary acquisition, which is vital for comprehension and communication.

Inquiry-Based Learning: Fostering Understanding

Inquiry-based learning is an approach that encourages students to explore and discover knowledge on their own through asking questions, conducting investigations, and problem-solving. Here’s how inquiry-based learning fosters understanding:

1. Critical Thinking: Inquiry-based learning promotes critical thinking as students formulate their questions, gather data, and draw conclusions. This process helps them not only accumulate knowledge but also understand the reasoning behind it.

2. Application of Knowledge: Through inquiry, students apply their knowledge in practical contexts. This approach encourages them to understand how the information they’ve gathered can be used to solve real-world problems. We’ve written before about how to build knowledge through project based learning, which of course includes what we call rich inquiry.

3. Lifelong Learning Skills: Inquiry-based learning develops lifelong learning skills. Students become independent learners, capable of seeking and understanding new information throughout their lives.

Combining Direct Instruction and Inquiry-Based Learning

To achieve a well-rounded education that emphasizes both knowledge and understanding, educators can combine direct instruction and inquiry-based learning. Our Director, Drew Perkins, discussed this with researcher Ard Lazonder, in this podcast episode (released prior to our name change to ThoughtStretchers), The TeachThought Podcast Ep. 339 The Case For Combining Inquiry With Direct Instruction. Here’s how this hybrid approach benefits students:

1. Comprehensive Learning: Direct instruction provides students with the necessary foundation of knowledge, while inquiry-based learning allows them to explore, question, and deepen their understanding of the subject matter.

2. Engaging Experiences: The combination of both methods ensures that students have a balanced learning experience, incorporating the structure of direct instruction and the excitement of discovery through inquiry.

3. Holistic Development: This approach nurtures students to become not only knowledgeable but also critical thinkers who can apply their knowledge and continue learning beyond the classroom.

In the pursuit of effective education, it is essential to teach for both knowledge and understanding. Direct instruction builds the foundation of knowledge, while inquiry-based learning fosters deeper understanding and critical thinking. By embracing this balanced approach, educators empower the next generation to not only know but also understand, setting them on a path to success in an ever-changing world.


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